We Watch Them So You Don’t Have To. The Worst Football Films Of All-Time Part 2. When Saturday Comes.
If they hadn’t nicked the name themselves from a song by The Undertones, the magazine might well have have sued. If you were to close your eyes and try to consider what “When Saturday Comes: The Movie” might entail, several ideas spring to mind. A loving paean to our game, perhaps, or a “Roger & Me”-esque investigation to the rotten core at the heart of modern football. What you probably wouldn’t have been expecting (and we can only imagine how many people have been caught out by this at Blockbuster Video or HMV over the last decade and a half or so), however, would have been a Sean Bean vehicle in which Bean plays every character that he has ever played in a film (a hunky, good-looking underdog with flaws but a heart of something approaching gold) whilst playing fast and loose with, well, how football works. It surely goes without saying there was no official endorsement from the magazine.
Bean’s character, Jimmy Muir, plays for a Sunday League team. He’s just started dating Emily Lloyd’s Annie Doherty, (who we may presume to be Irish on account of her red hair, but whose accent veers wildly from Irish to Liverpudlian, stopping off on the Isle of Man and, on occasion, in Rhyl), who works in the wages office in the factory that employs him. Muir is spotted by Ken Jackson, the manager of Hallam FC (played by the much-missed Pete Postlethwaite), who offers him £12 per match to play for his team. This leads to a series of triumphs, most of which come about whilst come about while facing a number of adversities, and ends with him playing for Sheffield United against Manchester United in the FA Cup and… well, you can probably guess the rest.
Most of Jimmy’s early tribulations concern people that are inexplicably angry. His father and his brother are – initially – inexplicably angry at each other. His father is inexplicably angry with him, too (although it turns out that this is because he wasted his chances as a young player himself, although it is never explained why this doesn’t manifest itself through wanting his son to, y’know, succeed where he didn’t). His boss is inexplicably angry at him. A player in the Hallam team (who, as far as we are concerned, has never even spoken to him before) is inexplicably angry with him in the changing room before his debut for them. Two members of his former Sunday League team start fighting over whether he wants a coke or a pint the night before his second United trial. This inexplicable anger, combined with a tendency to drop into mind-boggling cliché for very little reason, are two of the film’s defining features.
The anger and stupidity make Jimmy Muir impossible to have a great deal of sympathy for. He resolves his issues with the Hallam player by head-butting him. When his girlfriend tells him that she is pregnant, he reacts by shouting at her to get an abortion whether she wants one or not. He resolves the “coke or pint” debate by drinking a skinful and sleeping with a stripper, before turning up to the trial late and “stinking like a brewery”. His redemption comes from training very hard (try to imagine the training scenes from Rocky filmed at a non-league football ground), earning a second trial and then, yet again without explanation, going straight into the Sheffield United team as a substitute on what feels like the evening of this trial.
The cliché is clunking and comes at you at the pace of machine-gun fire. Jimmy’s father, the inveterate boozehound, is also addicted to gambling and loses more or less everything (including, worst of all, his younger brother’s football programmes). His (now ex, on account of her having – yes – inexplicably found out about his night with a stripper) girlfriend goes to see her priest about her woes, and the priest urges her to “follow your heart” rather than, as one might expect from a Catholic priest, trying with all the weight of his church, to talk her into keeping the baby rather than having an abortion. The issue of the football programmes being sold is resolved – kind of – via the medium of his brother being killed when the coal mine at which he works caves in. And so it goes on, with each vaguely emotional moment – and they come so with such rapidity and turgidity that they are all only vaguely emotional – being accompanied by a sweeping phalanx of strings which drown all other sound in a thick coating of corn syrup.
None of this is to say that this isn’t a film without any charm whatsoever. Being about football, there are some peripheral roles for people from within the game, so there is at least the chance to point out the former Sheffield Wednesday captain Mel Sterland playing United’s (you guessed it – almost permanently furious) captain, Tony Currie apparently playing himself in a parallel universe in which he’s possibly their assistant manager and Martin Tyler is providing the commentary (oddly, both on the radio and the television). There are also some nice interior shots of the interior of Bramall Lane and the “chonk” noise that the floodlights switch on there on the night of the Manchester United match is very satisfying. Those floodlights put in the best performances in the entire film.
As a British film, we can also open the I-Spy Book Of British Actors That You Recognise From Something Else. Billy Boswell from Bread is in the opening scene and Melanie Hill (Bean’s wife at the time), who played Aveline in the same series, is also present and correct. One could almost expect the guy who played Grandad to turn up halfway through, demanding to know the whereabouts of his “pudding”. In addition to these two, the captain of the Hallam team that Jimmy head-butts is the ginger guy that tried to kill himself in The Full Monty, the guy who played Vince in Queer As Folk is his brother and the goalkeeper from The Manageress is one of his Sunday League team-mates. Ultimately, though, this is Sean Bean – a life-long Sheffield United fan, as everyone knows – playing Sean Bean in what is essentially a Sean Bean vehicle. The plot may even have been scripted on the basis of a dream that he once had.
It’s difficult to imagine that the producers of this film set out to write a film that would only appeal to Sheffield United supporters, but that is what they achieved with When Saturday Comes. Some people may have spent the fifteen years after Escape To Victory idly wondering whether, even with a big budget, anyone would come close to making a definitive football film and they may have held out something approaching high hopes when they first heard of this film being made. The reality of it, however, is that When Saturday Comes is no more than a sub-standard drama – Freddie & The Dreamers to The Beatles’ The Full Monty – and is practically impossible to take seriously in any way. All drama requires its audience to suspend their disbelief for its duration to an extent. When Saturday Come rips your disbelief from you, chews it up and spits it back at you.
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